Will Sheryl Sandberg And Facebook Help Small Websites Threatened By SESTA?

from the disappointing dept

Earlier today, the Senate Commerce Committee had its markup on SESTA — the deeply flawed bill that claims to be about stopping sex trafficking, but which will do little on that front. Instead, it will create massive problems for lots and lots of small internet sites. The bill sailed through the markup, getting approved via a voice vote with no discussion or debate. As expected, last week’s decision by the Internet Association — the trade group representing all of the large internet companies — ensured that the bill would sail through the markup. Supporters of the bill are now wrongly insisting that “tech” now supports the bill.

However, as we’ve detailed, while the giant companies like Facebook and Google can handle whatever fallout there is from this bill, smaller sites and even users of those big sites will be at risk. So it was extra depressing to see Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg post her glowing, but factually inaccurate, support for SESTA.

I care deeply about ending the suffering that comes from sex trafficking and sexual exploitation on the internet ? and we at Facebook are committed to fighting it every way we can. That?s why we?re grateful that members of Congress have reached an agreement on the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. This important piece of legislation allows platforms to fight sex trafficking while giving victims the chance to seek justice against companies that don?t.

Thank you to lawmakers in both parties ? particularly Senators Portman and Blumenthal ? and to the dedicated anti-trafficking advocates for all their hard work. As this moves through the Senate and the House, we?re here to support it ? and to make sure that the internet becomes a safer place for all vulnerable girls, children, women, and men who deserve to be protected.

Lots of us care deeply about ending the suffering from sex trafficking. As we’ve discussed repeatedly, it’s a horrible, horrible crime. But, there is nothing in SESTA that targets ending sex trafficking. Its sole focus is on punishing the tools that sex traffickers use, in the bizarre and misguided belief that criminalizing the tools will somehow stop the traffickers. There is no evidence to support this. There is plenty of evidence that traffickers will just move around to other services — and some of those services are even less likely to be willing to work with law enforcement to track down actual traffickers. The whole approach behind SESTA is to try to bury the problem instead of deal with the actual problems of sex trafficking. We just wrote about a recent study showing how pushing this activity away from sites where it can be tracked puts the victims of sex trafficking at MORE risk.

Sandberg’s support, then, is doubly troubling. SESTA will cause more harm to victims of sex trafficking, while at the same time cementing Facebook’s dominant position, by putting smaller companies at significant risk. The cynical among you may suggest this latter part explains Facebook’s decision here, though I’d argue that’s almost certainly not true. It’s much more likely that with all the criticism Facebook has been receiving lately over supposed Russian interference, it had to “give up” something, and it’s easy to toe the misleading line that all of the politicians are following by saying this bill is about sex trafficking and it will magically help end sex trafficking. The fact that it may harm smaller sites and Facebook’s own users? That’s just gravy.

Yesterday I asked if the authors of SESTA, Senators Blumenthal and Portman, could explain to smaller sites like ours how to stay on the right side of the law. Now I’d like to make a similar ask of Facebook: considering its support of SESTA is what allowed it to sail through the markup this morning, will Facebook commit to funding the defense of small sites that face legal jeopardy because of SESTA? Will Facebook commit to creating a fund to pay for lawyers to help smaller sites comply with SESTA? Will Facebook commit to funding defense of bogus grandstanding attacks by state AGs using SESTA?

Facebook’s support of SESTA may be a political necessity for the company, but it will make things worse of victims of sex trafficking and for tons of non-Facebook companies on the internet.

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Companies: facebook, internet association

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Comments on “Will Sheryl Sandberg And Facebook Help Small Websites Threatened By SESTA?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

You were arguing big sites have TOO MUCH to check, remember?

“giant companies like Facebook and Google can handle whatever fallout there is from this bill” — RATS! — Let’s piece them up, then.

“But, there is nothing in SESTA that targets ending sex trafficking.” — Right, but irrelevant as usual: SESTA purports to stop WIDESPREAD ADVERTISING of the victims. — And THAT, by opposing the whole, you tacitly don’t care about. I’m harsh here only because you just prior to that sentence wrote how deeply (some) care, as a diversion from topic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: You were arguing big sites have TOO MUCH to check, remember?

The people who place the adverts are the criminals, while the site owners who fail to prevent them placing the adverts will now become victims of those criminals.

Those placing the ads have to provide some means of contacting them, and so expose themselves to the risk of being caught by police doing the necessary police work. Amongst other things, this give the police an easy option for a ‘victory’, by bringing charges against the site owners, while they let the actual criminals move on to another site.

Also, as noted by one victim, by driving this trade deeper underground, the victims are forced in the riskier sides of the business, like street walking, rather than working from a hotel.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: You were arguing big sites have TOO MUCH to check, remember?

The other thing is that the scale of this law and it’s actual effects is insanely out of proportion to forced sex trafficking and any effect the law could have in decreasing it.

And yeah, Facebook or any big platform are going to have problems, for sure. But just like any other large corporation, they are easily survivable for them, unlike the situation for smaller outfits, incoming platforms, individuals, or those using the big incumbent platforms. No cases or fines, or even endless strings of them, will ever cost teh Goog, Failbook, Twits, or Yoyosoft and their ilk anything remotely approaching a damaging amount of money.

Machin Shin says:

Re: You were arguing big sites have TOO MUCH to check, remember?

If it is so easy to find these ads and it is so widespread why do the cops not just go pickup all these victims?

Wouldn’t that make more sense than just removing the ads? You remove the ads and the victim is still stuck with the abuser. You haven’t helped them in any way. On the other hand if you use the ads to find the victims and save them from the abuser suddenly the victim is safe. This also means as you save these victims you gain witnesses to help you ID and convict the real criminal. I guess that is a lot more work though, much easier to try and hide the problem.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, but they don’t count. After all, as noted in a hearing not too long ago the companies without the resources of Facebook and/or Google are the minority, the ‘outliers’, so it’s no big deal if they are crushed under the law.

Blumenthal: And I believe that those outliers — and they are outliers — will be successfully prosecuted, civilly and criminally under this law.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is hardly surprising

Sandberg et.al. don’t care about sex trafficking. They don’t care about human rights. They don’t care about abuse. They don’t care about ANYTHING except profits.

Once you realize that, it’s quite easy to explain and predict their actions. They’ll say/do whatever maximizes profits — whether that makes sex trafficking worse or better.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

SESTA will cause more harm to victims of sex trafficking, while at the same time cementing Facebook’s dominant position, by putting smaller companies at significant risk. The cynical among you may suggest this latter part explains Facebook’s decision here, though I’d argue that’s almost certainly not true.

Why not? What have you ever seen about Facebook’s conduct that makes you doubt this?

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Isn't kidnapping and slavery already illegal?

Maybe I’m in out-of-it-old-man mode, but I don’t “get” the whole (seemingly recent) moral panic about “sex trafficking”.

That term seems to be used now to mean “prostitution”, but it used to mean kidnapping and slavery.

All of which are already illegal, but prostitution is a victimless crime, and often tolerated (or legal in red light districts, etc.).

What is new here? Why the recent moral panic? Why the need for a new term and new laws?

Is this all about Puritan moralists wanting to stamp out prostitutes?

What I am I missing? (I ask this in sincere bafflement.)

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Isn't kidnapping and slavery already illegal?

What you are missing is that many of the girls (and boys for that matter) who are working as prostitutes aren’t doing it willingly. They are held as slaves, through intimidation, threats, drugs, and so on and forced to have sex with strangers – and almost all the money (if not all the money) goes to the pimp.

Many of the girls involved are runaways, underage, and so on. It’s very much totally out of control.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Isn't kidnapping and slavery already illegal?

“Apparently s/he hasn’t been watching enough CSI, Nancy Grace, blaxploitation and Steven Seagal movies”

Answers: Not on anymore, She’s a nutjob, I love old style blaxploitation movies (corny mostly), and Seagal is a knob and possibly a sex offender.

So no, none of them are a source. Actually, Backpage is my source in this case.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Isn't kidnapping and slavery already illegal?

I confirm – I have never watched any of those movies.

(I did see Quentin Tarentino’s “Jackie Brown” – does that count?)

And I think CSI is a TV show, not a movie. But I’ve never watched it.

I suspect your comment was a jest, but I do wonder if I don’t “get” this stuff because I haven’t followed popular culture since the 80s…

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Isn't kidnapping and slavery already illegal?

There’s nothing new about that claim – moralists have been claiming that prostitutes are slaves for hundreds of years (at least).

And maybe in earlier eras, when police would ignore prostitute claims, that was possible. I don’t see how it is now.

It seems difficult in any modern Western country to keep a prostitute enslaved. All she has to do is call 911, or walk down the street to a police station or police officer. Or just any random person on the street (everybody carries cell phones now).

The only way to do it that I can imagine is to keep her literally imprisoned. But even then, she needs to see johns to make money – most johns are looking for sex, not slavery, and will cooperate in getting a plea to the police.

So – is this real? Or is this a made-up moral panic?

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Isn't kidnapping and slavery already illegal?

If I’m not mistaken, in the cases where it happens (which is by no means all of them), it’s done by what is essentially economic coercion – “if you go to the police, even if you manage to get me arrested and avoid getting arrested yourself, you’ll be back on the streets with no means of support”. Although probably rarely expressed in such explicit terms.

I’ve seen reports of pimps getting arrested and the “girls”, upon being let go, falling promptly under the sway of another pimp – because they simply don’t have (or can’t conceive of, find, and get into) any place else to go, and it’s psychologically (and quite possibly practically) easier to just stick with what they know.

And as long as we even stigmatize them for being in the position they’re in, much less criminalize what they do, that’s unlikely to change much.

The place to start in changing it is probably education – both of the people who may wind up in that position, to let them know (and help them understand) that they do have these other options, and of the people who could help the former type of people but might instead be inclined to condemn them, to get that latter type of people to the point where they will instead see the former as victims in need of help.

That’s an extremely big job, however.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Isn't kidnapping and slavery already illegal?

So you’re saying that women who voluntarily choose – for whatever reasons of their own – to work as prostitutes are “trafficked”?

The old time moralist claim that “all prostitutes are slaves” was based on the idea that no woman would ever choose to be a sex worker.

I thought feminism had blown that argument away decades ago – it seems not.

If I understand your interpretation correctly, you’re confirming my suspicion that this is a made-up moral panic.

I think we’re regressing here.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Isn't kidnapping and slavery already illegal?

First, this is not my argument, I’m just presenting what I understand the argument to be. I don’t think that people who do voluntarily choose to work in the sex trade are trafficked.

Second, I did state that this is how the "keep a prostitute enslaved" thing is done in cases where that happens – and that it does not by any means happen in all cases. No, not "all prostitutes are slaves" – but not all of them are necessarily in the business voluntarily, either.

Third, I don’t agree that choosing to do X under threat of loss of livelihood, and the resulting starvation et cetera, constitutes "voluntarily" choosing to do X.

That said, I’m saying that (one part of) the argument is that some of these women are prevented from going to the police, et cetera, by believable threats of the consequences of what will happen if they do. (Exacerbated in some instances by having had their worldviews intentionally limited such that they don’t see other options, or don’t realize how unlikely some of the consequences may be.)

If you consider choosing to stay with that hanging over their heads to be "voluntarily choos[ing] … to work as prostitutes" in any meaningful sense, then we have such different definitions of "voluntary" that I don’t see any point in us having this discussion.

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